'Ride and Stride' and the Swanage Folk Festival

Chapman's Pool from the coastal path

Saturday morning, last weekend and Helen and I were leaving the rectory to see how many churches we could visit in the day, supporting the Dorset Historic Churches Trust. We began with St Mary’s and Swanage Methodist, both of which were taking part, then heading up the road to St Mark’s. Three down and it was only just after 10.00 a.m.

Thereafter the serious walking began, part way along Priest’s Way and we took the path through the field to Langton, popping into St George’s at about ten past eleven, then on past the Acton Camp Site to join the Priest’s Way, once again, along which we walked to Worth. It was time for coffee and a rest, which we had at the tearooms there in the centre of the village.

This was decision time! Should we cut out St Aldhelm’s Chapel and head straight for Kingston, or tackle the St Aldhelm’s Head to Chapman’s Pool section of the coastal path and arrive in Kingston via Hill Bottom? It was going to add two or three miles and (as we were soon to discover) the 180 steps down and 180 steps up again of the dip in the land on that part of the coastal path.

Fortified by a cream and jam scone and coffee we slipped into the beautiful St Nicholas’ Church in Worth, meeting Stuart Cocksedge, team vicar of Wareham with his bike, riding rather than striding around the Isle of Purbeck churches in support of the Dorset Historic Church Trust, just like us. This was at 12.25 p.m. The day was moving on.

The track out to St Aldhelm’s Head is broad and rough but the views become increasingly fine and the farmers were hard at work in the fields, with tractor and harrow breaking up the deeply ploughed ridges of stoney soil. The sound of metal against stone carried across the landscape, as we gradually circumvented a large field and the gulls and dust, trailing the machinery, filled the air for some yards behind.

St Aldhelm’s Chapel was as damp as ever; dark but for the light that falls through the doorway and the glimmer over the altar from the one tiny window. Visitors came and went in silence. Then it was off to Chapman’s Pool, six churches down and the longest and most strenuous leg of the walk ahead - but also the part with the best views.

The vista from Kimmeridge to Portland opened before us as found our way through this glorious landscape to Kingston. We met more friends in Berno and Lucy and their two little girls, and some friends, just above Chapman’s Pool, before heading down to the valley to search for the most direct route onwards.

A young deer darted through the churchyard as we arrived in Kingston, and we signed in to the sound of the organ playing in the church itself, before retreating to a stone bench outside for a well-earned lunch. We made it to Corfe Castle for 4.00 p.m., just missing a wedding, but received the rector’s mark on our sponsor sheet. Eight churches and six hours, and it was time for a pint in the newly re-opened ancient pub of The Fox, thence to the steam train back to Swanage.

Helen went off home for a bath, but I really wanted to visit All Saints’ and St Nicholas’ yet, so headed up through the northern end of the town over Ballard Down and back, eventually, on the coastal path via Old Harry Rocks. It was nearly dark when I turned in at the rectory gates, but what a wonderful day!

Sunday brought the Folk Festival Service to St Mary’s, with singing, dancing and instrumental music. Over £1.000 was raised for the flood victims of Kerala in India, and people enjoying refreshments on the grass outside had further dancing to see. The end of our first year in Swanage has been quite some experience.

John Mann

The dancing of Fleet Morris, with the Purbeck Village Quire in the gallery above.